Remember that you are dust. But of course, it would be hard to forget that or deny it today.
What we receive from our fathers and hand over to our children — along with looks and intellect, skills and temperament, attitudes, ideas, and possibly possessions — is a legacy of sin and death, which puts you back into the ground from which your first father Adam was taken. Along the way, it rears its heads in all sorts of ways, both general and particular: in your quirks and foibles, in your vices and bad habits, and in the injuries and illnesses which exacerbate your fear and anger. There is a brokenness to life on earth afflicting body and soul, home and family, business and finance.
From sire to seed the curse descends. To be conceived and born as a child of man in this mortal world is always to inherit a terminal disease. There’s no denying or escaping it.
That’s not to say there are no blessings or good things. Surely there are, by the grace of God. But in this poor life of labor, it is always a mixed bag, and at bottom it is like the grass that withers, the flower that fades, and the dust that is blown away. Even in the midst of real life and the many good gifts of God, death pursues you and surrounds you because of sin.
All men die, because all men sin. And the perversity of that sin is never greater than when you deny it, and take credit for what you have received, as though you had achieved it for yourself, and pridefully presume to make a name for yourself, to make your own way and a life for yourself.
By contrast, what the Lord Jesus Christ has received from His Father is Life and Grace and Glory and the Name above all names; not only from eternity as the only-begotten Son of God, but also in His true manhood, in His own Body of human flesh and blood. For He is anointed by the Spirit as the Christ at His Baptism in the Jordan River, and the Spirit rests and remains upon Him.
Not for His own benefit does He receive the Holy Spirit, but in order to become your Savior from sin, death, the devil, and hell. Thus He is driven by the Spirit from the waters of His Baptism into the wilderness in which you live and die, in order to contend with Satan as your great Champion, to take His stand beside you on the plain, even unto His Cross and Passion as the Son of Man.
He takes all your many transgressions, and not only yours, but those of the whole world, and the whole legacy of sin and death from Adam to the end of the age. His Father in heaven lays it all upon Him, so that you might be rescued from the curse and every evil, justified, reconciled to God, and sanctified in body and soul, unto the life everlasting.
He puts His mouth in the dust. He gives His cheek to the smiters. He bears the reproach of God and man for the sins of all of Adam’s children. And by His death, He puts sin and death to death in Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood, in the confidence that His Father will raise Him in accordance with the Scriptures. In faith and hope, He waits quietly upon His God and Father.
So it is, that, in His Resurrection from the dead, you also are raised up with Him. In His crucified and risen Body, you are brought to the Father in Peace; not for condemnation, but for eternal life.
Indeed, His God and Father has actually become your God and Father in Him; not by your works, but in spite of your sin, by His grace as a free gift, through the Gospel, through faith in the Gospel.
For as the Father raises the incarnate Son from death to life, so does the Son give Life to you and to all who believe in Him. So has He given His Life to Leon, not only for a while, but forever.
The same Lord Jesus Christ works all of this in you, so that it becomes yours, as it is has also become Leon’s, by repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins. It happens by your dying and rising with Christ, both to and from your Baptism, and so also day-by-day in the significance of your Baptism.
Thus, by various ways and means — by the way of the Cross, by the preaching of His Word, and by the curse and consequences of sin that you suffer in the world — God puts you to death, in order to raise you from death to life. Even what you suffer because of your sin, and on account of the sins of others against you, is constrained to serve the purposes of God in conforming you to Christ, so that you become a son of God in Him. Has He not taught you to pray, “Our Father”?
In Christ you receive a new legacy, a new inheritance, not of sin and death, but of the Resurrection and the Life everlasting. This is the gracious gift of God, which you receive from Christ through the Gospel, as it is handed over from generation to generation. It is a holy and precious tradition, passed on by Christian parents to their children, just as Leon gave it to his sons by taking them to church and having them taught the faith at Trinity in Utica. And it is given by spiritual fathers, as well, to the children of God entrusted to their care within the life of the Church on earth.
There is a strong irony and contrast at work in this tradition of the Gospel, in which mortal men are able to give immortal life to their children, instead of simply sin and death. It is obvious, for example, when a pastor has the privilege of baptizing his own son or daughter. As a father, he has passed on the legacy of Adam, but as a pastor he bestows the grace of God the Father in Christ.
There is a similar paradox at work when a pastor is given to serve and care for his own earthly father in the Name of Christ, on behalf of our Father in heaven, as Pastor Fickel has done for his Dad in the final years of his life. So did the son become the father, and by the Word of Christ, by the power of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, he was able to give life to his dying father.
By the Ministry of the Gospel, the legacy of sin and death is turned on its head and inside-out. For you are baptized into the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, and, because you die with Him, so do you also live with Him. By faith in your Baptism, your life is hidden with Christ in God.
It is hidden. Your Life in Christ is real, solid, and true, but it is hidden under the Cross in the dark shadows of death and the grave. You are not able, here and now, to experience or feel it in your flesh and bones. It is by faith, and not by sight. You cling to the promise of the Gospel in the face of your own mortality and the mortality of your loved ones, your parents and your children.
And not only your flesh, but your faith, too, is constantly assaulted, attacked, and accused by the devil, the father of lies, who desperately seeks to rob and destroy the hope of Christ in you. He troubles your heart and mind with the chaos of conflicting emotions, so that you are tossed about and torn apart, to the point that you cannot keep your bearings or remember what is true. Anger at your Dad, or at yourself, or at the world. Guilt for things you’ve done or said, or for what you should have done or said but didn’t. Worries and anxieties over what the future holds for you and for your own children. Doubts and fears, maybe verging on despair, because it seems too much.
It is a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contend within your heart, mind, and spirit.
But hear now the Voice of Christ Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, whose Word is Spirit and Truth. He does not accuse or condemn you. He judges you righteous for His own sake. He speaks forgiveness, the free and full forgiveness of all your sins, of all your guilt and shame. He does not toss you back upon yourself in regret for the past, but, in calling you to repentance, He calls you to faith in the mercies of God. He calls you out of death and the grave, from the dust of the earth, to rise and live with Him forever in the bosom of your own dear God and Father.
For the fact of the matter is, that you share your dust and death, not only with father Adam, but now also with Christ Jesus, your Savior. By His humble obedience unto His death upon the Cross, and by your Baptism into Him, He has become like you, and He makes you to be like Him.
Suffering is therefore not meaningless, pointless, or hopeless. Indeed, it cannot be. It is invested with divine significance by the suffering of God in human flesh and blood like yours. What you suffer is a thus a participation in the Cross of Christ, an exercise of repentance and faith in Him. Even a terminal illness — whether it be Huntington’s Disease, or cancer, or whatever it may be — must serve the gracious and merciful purposes of God for the life and salvation of His children.
Your Father does not afflict or grieve you willingly, but He subjects you to futility in the promise of the Resurrection, so that you learn to wait upon the Lord and hope in Him, to find your portion in Him alone. He causes you grief, but only for the sake of His mercy, compassion, and steadfast loving-kindness. He quiets your commotion, your outbursts of anger and frustration, so that you would listen to His Voice of the Gospel. He humbles you, in order to exalt you in Christ Jesus.
He remembers that you are dust. And from that very dust He forms you into the Image and Likeness of His own dearly-beloved Son, and He breathes into your body and soul the Breath of Life, the living and Life-giving Spirit of Jesus.
The One who promises is faithful forever. And as He has done it in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, so shall He raise Leon at the last, and so shall He raise you to live with the Lord in Grace, Mercy, and Peace in the House of your God and Father.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.